Women urged to sleep on side to prevent stillbirth

The parents of a stillborn baby have released a picture of their son to help highlight new research that shows pregnant women can halve the risk of stillbirth simply by going to sleep in the correct position.

Hayley and Adam Powsney, from Bury, Greater Manchester, hope that the image of baby Joshua will help draw attention to the findings and underline the heartache that stillbirth brings.

“He died in the delivery process,” Mrs Powsney told Sky News. “That changes you completely as a person.”

She added: “From the moment they told me there was nothing more they could do my world just collapsed. I had my baby in my arms and he didn’t cry. There’s nothing that can prepare you for that.”

In the largest study to examine maternal sleep and stillbirth, scientists assessed more than 1,000 pregnant women.

Stillbirth is 15 times more common than cot death and Britain has one of the worst records in the developed world.

Scan of babies in womb. generic. VT McCarthy on stillbirths

Image: Results of the latest study could potentially save 100,000 babies a year, researchers say

Researchers say the results of the latest study could potentially save 100,000 babies a year if the risk was eliminated internationally.

The work was carried out by Tommy’s Stillbirth Research Centre in Manchester.

The centre’s clinical director, Professor Alex Heazell, said: “Around 11 babies are stillborn every day in the UK.

“Stillbirth is devastating with long-lasting effects on bereaved parents. Parents want to know why their baby has died, whether it might happen again if they try for another baby and what they can do to avoid further stillbirth.”

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Video: The ‘Sleep on Side’ campaign

A public health campaign has been launched to accompany the publication of the results.

The “Sleep on Side” campaign aims to educate women about the risk of going to sleep on their back in late pregnancy. It includes a video showing how a mother-to-be should lie when nodding off. The advice applies to sleep in the third trimester (after 28 weeks) including:

:: Going to sleep at night
:: Returning to sleep after night awakenings
:: Daytime naps

As the going-to-sleep position is the one held longest during the night, women shouldn’t be worried if they wake up on their back but should simply roll over onto their side.

Although researchers can’t say for certain why the risk is increased, there are several theories.

Joshua Powsney

Image: ‘We want Joshua’s life to mean something,’ his father says

In the third trimester, when the woman is lying on her back, the combined weight of baby and uterus (womb) puts pressure on the main blood vessels that supply the uterus, and this can restrict blood flow/oxygen to the baby.

Other possible explanations include disturbed breathing during sleep, which is worse when a woman sleeps on her back and in overweight or obese women, who also have an increased risk of stillbirth.

The advice is being supported by the Powsneys, who went on to have two healthy babies.

“We want Joshua’s life to mean something,” said Mr Powsney.

“Our oldest child is now two-and-a-half. We’re going to explain to her that she had an older brother. If we can help Tommy’s Research Centre his life will mean something.”